Art & Sustainable Energy at the Woodstock Art Gallery [Case Study]

Guest Post by Roberta Grosland, Head of Collections, Woodstock Art Gallery*

The Art of Sustainable Energy really started in 2011 when the Woodstock Art Gallery moved into our new building …

Our new neighbours, at what was then Woodstock Hydro, reached out to us to help them organize a logo design contest to promote their solar energy program.

We were the ideal partners, we not only knew a great deal about art, we also had the best view in the City of Hydro’s new solar panels.

The kids that entered the contest were so enthusiastic about the project and passionate about the environment, it inspired the Gallery’s Head of Education, Stephanie Porter, and me to begin to plan a permanent collection exhibition and school program that would examine some of the issues facing the environment.

Over the next few years, the Gallery continued to partner with Woodstock Hydro.  Together, Oxford County and Woodstock Hydro had set a 100% renewable energy target of 2050To reach that goal, Oxford County and Woodstock Hydro needed both a space and a way of actively engaging the public and that is where again, the Woodstock Art Gallery could help. 

Through the summer of 2015, photographs by students from the Environmental Visual Communication Program at Fleming College, under the direction of Neil Ever Osborne, were displayed in our Community Gallery.  Jay Heman and his team from Woodstock Hydro, could often be found in the gallery sharing information about local sources of renewable energy. And, even when they were not there, information panels and audio visual displays encouraged our visitors to learn more about this exciting goal.

By 2015, the Gallery had undergone renovations and for the first time we had exhibition areas dedicated to permanent collection exhibitions.  Finally, in January 2016, Observations in the Glass House, the exhibit that Stephanie and I had been planning for 5 years opened.  The exhibit was generously sponsored by Toyota Motor Manufacturing Canada. It was a good fit as it reflected Toyota’s commitment to the environment.  The permanent collection works that made up Observations from the Glass House spanned half a century, eight artists and a variety of media.  Some pieces celebrated the beauty of nature, other mourned the toll humans inflict on both the environment and other species that share our world. 

Woodstock AG- 2016-WAGFebruaryOpening(069of069)
Roberta leading a tour of Observations in the Glass House. Courtesy Woodstock Art Gallery.

Stephanie was heavily involved in the planning and choice of works as it was important that the exhibit not only work as an art exhibit but that it functioned as a jumping off point for, The Art of Sustainable Energy, a school program for grade 5 and 6 students sponsored by Oxford County.  The students who participated in the program examined the art in the exhibit and discussed the environmental issue the artists raised.  They then played games that encouraged them to think about how they could make a difference; for example, through re-cycling.  Jay Heman, now director of strategic initiatives for Oxford County, gave each of the classes a PowerPoint presentation about renewable energy and then allowed the students to conduct a hands-on exploration of a working solar panel.

We still have the best view in the City of what are now Hydro One’s solar panels. All the visiting students got to see those solar panels along with Jay’s strategically parked, electric car! 

Oxford County not only loaned us Jay for each of the programs but also underwrote the transportation costs for the classes to visit the Gallery.

Student participants learned more about sustainable energy and Oxford County’s renewable energy target. But, perhaps just as importantly,

students discovered that art can not only challenge us to question what we see around us but can also challenge us to make a difference in our communities and in our world.

*Roberta Grosland is the Head of Collections at the Woodstock Art Gallery in Ontario, Canada. Her interest in art and art galleries started when her mother snuck her in to The Guggenheim Museum at age 4.  She went on to obtain a BA and a MA in Fine Art History from the University of Toronto. After moving to Kitchener, Ontario her career path swerved into the world of museums and living history.  She was a costumed historical interpreter first at Doon Heritage Crossroads and then at the Joseph Schneider Haus Museum where she went on to hold a variety of positions.  Since 2008, Roberta has worked at the Woodstock Art Gallery managing the Gallery’s permanent collection and curating permanent collection exhibitions.

Agentic Professionals: How individual museum workers can champion climate justice

Guest Post by Joy Davis, PhD CAHP.*  Joy is a member of the Advisory Group of the Coalition of Museums for Climate Justice.

When Coalition organizers first met, we had a brief discussion as to whether this initiative would be better named Coalition for Museum, Gallery and Cultural Heritage Professionals and Climate Justice or Coalition for Museum Workers Concerned about Climate Justice. After all people join as individuals, not as museums.

Joy Davis
Joy in the Muskwa Kechika Conservation Area in northern BC, August 2016

But the enduring challenge of agreeing on a common name for all the individuals affiliated with museums, along with the overriding agreement that the Coalition aspires to be supportive of museums and related institutions in using their capacity to build understanding of climate change and its impacts, led back to a name that highlights the institution (inclusively defined) rather than the individual.

This discussion highlights an interesting dynamic at play across the museum world. We talk about museums as if they are somehow separate from the many people who bring them to life:

“museums should be more socially responsible; museums should be more engaged with community; museums should shape positive change.”

But museums can only respond to change when the individuals involved champion new ideas, approaches and practices. This requires exercising personal and professional agency, regardless of where the individuals are positioned within the museum world.

So what is agency?

Renowned psychologist Albert Bandura helps us understand the powerful role of individuals within and around institutions in saying that “to be an agent is to intentionally make things happen by one’s actions” (p. 2). He might have been thinking of members of this Coalition when he went on to say that if individuals are to successfully negotiate this increasingly complex world, they have to

“make good judgments about their capabilities, anticipate the probable effects of different events and courses of action, size up…opportunities and constraints, and regulate their behavior accordingly.”

Albert Bandura, Social cognitive theory: An agentic perspective (p. 3).

Bandura suggests that agency has the following core features. It is easy to see how each of these qualities can be important in enabling individuals to shift and shape museums’ support for climate justice:

  • Intentionality:  a proactive commitment and plan of action to make something happen.
  • Forethought:  setting achievable goals and expectations, anticipating implications, and formulating a course of action that helps to motivate and guide actions.
  • Self-reactiveness:  self-regulatory processes that enable the individual to monitor his/her behaviour in the context of environmental (read ‘museum’) conditions and to align performance with morals, goals and standards.
  • Self-reflectiveness:  the metacognitive capacity to reflect upon oneself and the adequacy of one’s knowledge and abilities.

A big part of self-reflectiveness is perceived self-efficacy or the sense of whether or not you have the capacity to influence change.

Self-efficacy is pivotal since it determines whether “people think pessimistically or optimistically and in ways that are self-enhancing or self-hindering” (p. 10). Perceived self-efficacy tends to determine the causes that people choose to champion, the amount of energy they devote to the initiative, how long they persevere in the face of obstacles, and their level of motivation and initiative.

An Agentic Professional

The very act of joining the Coalition of Museums for Climate Justice suggests that you are an ‘agentic’ professional. This positions you to play an important and intentional role in shaping museums’ capacity to respond to the impacts of climate change. While this may be challenging, there is encouragement in Bandura’s observation that

“the capacity to exercise control over the nature and quality of one’s life is the essence of humanness.”

Albert Bandura, Social cognitive theory: An agentic perspective (p. 1).


Albert Bandura (2001). Social cognitive theory: An agentic perspective. Annual Review of Psychology, 52, 1-26

* Joy Davis worked with the University of Victoria for over thirty years, directing such innovative programs as Cultural Resource Management, Aboriginal Language Revitalization and Intercultural Education. And in her final years at UVic, she took on interim dean or director positions with a range of units including Continuing Studies, University Art Collections, and Community Relations. In her new role as a freelance cultural heritage specialist and in her work with the Coalition, she has an abiding interest in how learning is adapted to meet the situated needs of museums, and in museums’ capacity to respond to changing expectations

The Elephant in the Room – Museums Can’t Risk Doing Anything That Might Alienate Their Audience

In this guest post, Robert R. Janes, Co-Chair of the Coalition, writes more about climate change and museums and the founding of the Coalition of Museums for Climate Justice …

We have now passed the milestone level of 400 parts per million of climate-warming carbon in the atmosphere… for the first time in human existence – without even an outcry by the citizenry.[1] The 400ppm threshold is a dire wake-up call, and our profound, global challenge is to reduce our carbon emissions by 80% by 2050, in order to forestall the worst impacts of climate disruption. Judging by the results so far, we are failing miserably.

B Janes at Climate Change session

Why is the museum community reluctant to address this issue?  I suggest that it lies in the claim of “neutrality,” There is a widely-held belief that museums must protect their neutrality, lest they fall prey to bias and special interest groups.[2] The unspoken argument is that museums cannot risk doing anything that might alienate their audiences or sponsors, real or potential.

This claim of neutrality has conspired to create a magical belief that is now the stock-in-trade of most museum workers.[3] This belief is that museums may abstain from addressing societal issues and aspirations, because they have complex histories and unique missions which absolve them from greater accountability.

Three Reasons to Challenge Neutrality

Why should museum workers part company with the time-honoured protection of neutrality?

The first reason is that each of us is a sentient being on planet earth, and each of us has a personal responsibility to confront the reality of climate change and protect the planet upon which we depend.

Second, we know as museum workers that education is a core mission of museums, but what sort of education is appropriate and necessary now? What we actually need are museums that identify and challenge the myths and misperceptions that threaten us – such as the false belief that continuous economic growth and consumption can continue.

The third reason for rejecting neutrality is that each of us is part of a family – a son, a daughter, a brother, a sister, parent or grandparent. With this in mind,

“…for how long would we like our family to continue? If the next generation matters to us, and the children born to it do as well, then what about their children’s children?” [4]

 Unique Characteristics of Museums

In addition to their larger view of time, museums are uniquely qualified to embrace climate change and other critical issues, because of several unique characteristics:

  • They are grounded in their communities and are expressions of locality;
  • They are a bridge between science and culture;
  • They bear witness by assembling evidence and knowledge, and making things known;
  • They are seed banks of sustainable living practices that have guided our species for millennia;
  • They are some of the most free and creative work environments in the world.

In short, there are no other organizations with this singular combination of historical consciousness, sense of place, public accessibility, and unprecedented public trust.

How, then, can these precious qualities translate into concrete action? Here are three simple initiatives:

  1. Tell stories and educate – Museums tell the stories of the natural and cultural world – tell your visitors how climate change and disruption came to be.
  1. Second, with unbridled consumption as the cause of climate change, it is imperative that we reduce our individual consumption. Museums can readily assist with this task through information, dialogue and advocacy.
  1. A third initiative is to develop an Advocacy Policy for your museum, to help nurture and strengthen a broader vision. This policy would delineate what issues are important and how your museum will respond when confronted with moral and civic challenges, such as climate change.[5]

This leads me to one unavoidable conclusion. Individual museum efforts to address climate change are laudable and essential, but they are not enough. Nothing less than a global museum movement is now required, and the resources of the world’s 55,000 museums must not only be mobilized – they must also be anchored in a new story.

A New Story

We all agree that museums exist to tell stories—about people, communities, and nations — but who is telling the story of the twenty-first century? Corporations and governments are, but it is the story of ceaseless economic growth. The rhetoric is agonizingly familiar and destructive – consumption means happiness; economic inequality is unavoidable, and rampant environmental damage is regrettable.[6] Although we know that this story is false, it is the predominate story in our public lives and it defines our common future. This story, however, is destroying the planet upon which we depend.

Humanity needs a new story; museums need a new story.[7] We must move beyond the doomed economy of industrial growth to the recognition that the connection between individuals, communities, and nature is the key to our well-being.[8] It is incumbent on all museums to help envision and create this new narrative with their communities – using their unique skills and perspectives.

These issues and the thinking behind them lead to the formation of the Coalition of Museums for Climate Justice.


[1] Romm, J. “Into the Valley of Death Rode the 600, Into the Valley of 400 PPM Rode the 7 Billion.” Available online: – May 5, 2013

[2] Janes, R.R. (2009) Museums in a Troubled World: Renewal, Irrelevance or Collapse? London and New York: Routledge, p.59.

[3] McKenzie, B. Next after MuseumNext, The Learning Planet Blog. Available online:

[4] Macy, J. and Johnstone, C. (2012) Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy, Novato, CA: New World Library, p. 142.

[5] Museum 2.0 “Does Your Museum Have An Advocacy Policy?” Available online; http :// – January 16, 2016

[6] Korten, D. (2014) “Change the Story, Change the Future: A Living Economy for a Living Earth.” Presentation at the Praxis Peace Institute Conference, San Francisco, California, October 7, p. 2. Available online:

[7] Korten, D. (2014) “Change the Story, Change the Future: A Living Economy for a Living Earth.” Presentation at the Praxis Peace Institute Conference, San Francisco, California, October 7, p.4.Available online:

[8] Macy, J. and Johnstone, C. (2012) Active Hope: How to Face the Mess We’re in without Going Crazy, Novato, CA: New World Library, p. 142.